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3 Tips For Seascape Photography

During my Oregon photo workshops last week, my students and I worked on a bunch of techniques to capture great seascape photos. I picked out 3 tips that we worked on quite a bit. Want to learn more? Come shoot with me on the California coast next spring. Workshops for Spring 2019 are open for registration.

1. Practice With Your ND Filters At Sunrise

Neutral density (ND) filters are a mainstay in my field kit. They go everywhere with me. My 4-stop filter is my workhorse, and I’ll also break out a 6 or 10 stop filter from time to time. When you are first learning how to use ND filters, there is a lot to manage.

There are a lot of moving parts when working with ND filters. Beyond the composition and artistic choice of depth of field, you’re thinking about the look on the water you want. How much time does the shutter need to stay open to get the water looking like you want? How think of an ND filter needs to go on the camera? You also need to know the mechanics of your camera to enable and disable auto-focus. Cameras will struggle to focus through thick ND filters.

Put another way, it takes practice.

When you are first learning to use ND filters, practice at sunrise. Good landscape photos happen during the golden hour. Sunset can feel rushed, the golden light sometimes lasting mere minutes. Sunrise is more forgiving and affords more time to work with your filters. As light rises, the filters go on. You can practice your technique, both with determining the best target exposure time and fine tuning exactly when to press the shutter. Get your mechanics down on sunrise shoots, and you’ll be ready for the more rushed sunset outings.

Sandstorm At Bandon Beach

2. Wide Angle Shots Need A Strong Foreground

Wide angle lenses are not about fitting everything into the frame. Wide angle is about exaggerating a foreground subject. Get very close to your subject. At the 14mm to 18mm range, I’m often just a foot or two from my foreground subject. Also, compose so there are midground elements in the scene, or to minimize an empty midground. Wide angle lenses greatly exaggerate distances. Large subjects in the background appear small, distant, and insignificant. Avoiding an empty midground helps guide your viewer through the frame.

Three Rocks, Port Orford

3. Know When To Break Focus Rules

A classic technique to get maximum depth in a scene is to dial in an aperture of f/16 and focus about 1/3 of the way into the frame. And that works for a lot of situations. However, for some coastal scenes, you want to break that rule.

The ocean or surf often occupies a good portion of the foreground in a seascape photo. Seascapes also employ ND filters to smooth and soften the water. Smooth, soft water does not need to be tack sharp. It’s OK for it to be soft. In these situations, don’t focus 1/3 of the way into the frame.

Focus on an element that is fixed and need to be crisp. In the example here, I focused at the base of the first rock on the right. That’s well above the first 1/3 of the frame. The incoming surf can and will be soft. The subtle reflections of my subject rock will also be soft. It is better to focus on the rock itself.

Also check out: 5 Tips To Nail Focus In Your Landscape Photos